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Congress Ends Ban on Medical Marijuana in Washington, D.C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                 

DECEMBER 13, 2009

Congress Ends Ban on Medical Marijuana in Washington, D.C.

Only Obama’s Signature Now Needed on Historic Measure

CONTACT: Aaron Houston, MPP director of government relations ……………………… 202-420-1031

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate today passed historic legislation to end the decade long ban on implementation of the medical marijuana law Washington, D.C. voters passed in 1998.

            “This marks the first time in history that Congress has changed a marijuana law for the better,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

            The “Barr amendment,” a rider attached to appropriations for the District, has forbidden D.C. from extending legal protection to qualified medical marijuana patients and has long been derided as an unconscionable intrusion by the federal government into the District's affairs. The omnibus spending bill, now approved by both chambers of Congress, removes this onerous provision, allowing the District to finally implement its voter-approved law. President Obama is expected to sign the bill shortly.

          “This is not only a huge victory for medical marijuana patients and for D.C. self-government, it marks a history-making shift on the medical marijuana issue," Houston said. “This is the first time Congress has ever given its assent to a state or local law that permits medical use of marijuana. It shows that Congress is listening to voters, who have supported protection for medical marijuana patients for well over a decade, as well as to the medical community’s growing recognition of marijuana’s medical value.

         “Coming on top of the announcement that the Department of Justice will not interfere with state medical marijuana laws, this shows that the ground has fundamentally shifted. It’s time for the federal government to take the logical next step as the American Medical Association just suggested, and reconsider marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, which bars medical use.”

         Congressman Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) originally removed the ban from the D.C. appropriations bill back in July after years of working to protect patients in Washington, D.C. Congressman David Obey (D-Wis.) helped ensure that the change made it through the legislative process and into the omnibus spending bill Congress passed today.

         Medical marijuana is legal under the laws of 13 states, with bills under consideration in several others, including New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.

         With more than 29,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Congress: Budget Deal Includes Series of Drug Reform Victories

US House and Senate negotiators in conference committee approved the finishing touches on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget Tuesday night, and they included a number of early Christmas presents for different drug reform constituencies. It isn't quite a done deal yet -- this negotiated version of the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act must now win final approval on both the House and Senate floors. But they are up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed votes -- if the bill passes, it will include the drug reforms.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/capitolsenateside.jpg
US Capitol, Senate side
What the conference committee approved:

  • Ending the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs -- without previous language that would have banned them from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and similar facilities. (Instead it seems to give local authorities the ability to overrule state or other officials on location choices.)
  • Ending the ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia.
  • Allowing the District of Columbia to implement the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in 1998 but blocked by congressional diktat ever since.
  • Cutting funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from $70 million this year to $45 million next year.

In a news release after agreement was reached, this is how the committee described the language on needle exchange:

Modifies a prohibition on the use of funds in the Act for needle exchange programs; the revised provision prohibits the use of funds in this Act for needle exchange programs in any location that local public health or law enforcement agencies determine to be inappropriate.

Its description of the DC appropriations language:

Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia: ...Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities.

And its language on the youth media campaign:

National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $45 million, $25 million below 2009 and the budget request, for a national ad campaign providing anti-drug messages directed at youth. Reductions were made in this program because of evaluations questioning its effectiveness. Part of the savings was redirected to other ONDCP drug-abuse-reduction programs.

Citing both reforms in the states -- from medical marijuana to sentencing reform -- as well as the conference committee's actions, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann stopped just short of declaring victory Wednesday. "It's too soon to say that America's long national nightmare -- the war on drugs --is really over," Nadelmann. "But yesterday's action on Capitol Hill provides unprecedented evidence that Congress is at last coming to its senses when it comes to national drug control policy."

As noted above, there are still two votes to go, and reformers are applying the pressure until it is a done deal. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans will get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C if Congress does not repeal the federal syringe funding ban," said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. "The science is overwhelming that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. We will make sure the American people know which members of Congress stand in the way of repealing the ban and saving lives."

Washington, DC, residents got a two-fer from the committee when it approved ending the ban on the District funding needle exchanges and undoing the Barr Amendment, the work of erstwhile drug warrior turned reformer former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA). Barr's amendment forbade the District from implementing the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which won with 69% of the vote.

"Congress is close to making good on President Obama's promise to stop the federal government from undermining local efforts to provide relief to cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who need medical marijuana," said Naomi Long, the DC Metro director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "DC voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and Congress should have never stood in the way of implementing the will of the people."

"The end of the Barr amendment is now in sight," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "This represents a huge victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have every right to set their own policies in their own District without congressional meddling. DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, more than 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest."

Medical marijuana in the shadow of the Capitol? Federal dollars being spent on proven harm reduction techniques? Congress not micromanaging DC affairs? What is the world, or at least Washington, coming to?

Good Stuff to Read

An Alternet story about the DEA's continuing failure to update their website in accordance with the AMA's new position on medical marijuana seems to have gotten results. DEA made another update here, noting the new position and replacing bad info.   

Also at Alternet, 10 Signs the Failed Drug War Is Finally Ending by Tony Newman. This has been an incredible year for drug policy reform and Tony's piece was published before this week's incredible news on Capitol Hill.

An outrageous medical marijuana prosecution in New Jersey. It's really time to get this legislation passed.

A new poll finds 53% support for legalizing marijuana. Other interesting stuff in there too.

The worst anti-marijuana editorial I've seen in awhile. The dude even mixes up North and South Korea.

Drug war robots! I've been warning about this for years now. It's just a matter of time before the cartels build robots too (if they haven't already). 

And finally, Prisoner dupes guards, grows pot in cell. Seriously. He told them it was tomatoes. And he only got busted because another inmate ratted him out. Although I suppose it would have caught up with him eventually, because at some point the guards might notice that he doesn’t ever seem to have any tomatoes.

Medical Marijuana: Los Angeles City Council Approves Measure to Cap Dispensaries at 70

Under a measure passed Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city will shrink by more than 90%. The council voted to cap the number of dispensaries at 70, while recent estimates put the number of actually operating medical marijuana outlets in the city at between 800 and 1,000.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/ventura-dispensary.jpg
medical marijuana dispensary, Ventura Blvd., LA (courtesy wikimedia.org)
The vote is only the latest in the council's tortuous and twisted four-year effort to regulate the city's booming medical marijuana retail industry. There were four dispensaries in the city when the council first tackled the issue in 2005. By the time the council issued a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, there were 186. In the past two years, their numbers have increased four-fold from there.

Of the dispensaries that legally registered with the city prior to the moratorium, officials believe 137 are still open. Those establishments will be allowed to stay open, but may have to move to comply with restrictions on where they may locate.

"I think we should hold true to those that followed the rules," said Councilman Dennis Zine, explaining why he voted to reward dispensaries that were legally registered.

If Los Angeles actually does cap dispensaries at 70, that will mean roughly one dispensary for every 50,000 residents. In Oakland, the only other large city in the state to impose a cap, four dispensaries serve 100,000 residents each. Other, smaller, California cities with caps include Berkeley (one dispensary for each 34,000 residents), Palm Springs (one for each 24,000 residents), West Hollywood (one for every 9,000 residents), and Sebastopol (one for every 3,500 residents).

The council will return to try to actually pass its medical marijuana ordinance next week. There are signs it is going to revisit its decision of two weeks ago to impose a 1,000-ft. restriction on dispensaries near schools, parks, and similar facilities after advocates argument the restriction would effectively ban dispensaries from broad swathes of the city.

Feature: With Passage of Medical Marijuana Bill Pending, New Jersey Patient Faces 20 Years for Growing His Medicine

Update: Wilson was convicted of some charges Thursday, but not the most serious one.

Just weeks before the New Jersey Assembly votes on pending medical marijuana legislation, a trial is set to take place that demonstrates precisely why such a law is needed. A sick Somerset County resident, John Ray Wilson, is looking at up to 20 years in prison for growing his own medicine.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnraywilson5.jpg
courthouse demo supporting John Ray Wilson, 2009
In the summer of 2008, Wilson, a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer, was broke, had no health insurance, and was desperate for relief from the debilitating symptoms of his disease. Unable to afford pharmaceutical medications and having already resorted to alternative healing practices, when Wilson saw fellow MS victim Montel Williams talk on TV about how medical marijuana had helped him, he decided to try it for himself.

Wilson had even resorted to bee-sting therapy in a bid to relieve his symptoms, but it was marijuana that worked best, he said. "I was diagnosed with MS in 2002," he said. "I suffer from blurred vision, pain in my joints, and muscle spasms. I didn't have any medical benefits, so I tried to get some financial assistance to actually get some MS medicine, but that didn't succeed. I even tried getting stung by bees. Then I saw Montel Williams on TV saying he had MS and smoked marijuana and it helped. So I tried it, too, and it definitely helped, especially in relieving the pain and the muscle spasms."

Lacking access to medical marijuana, Wilson decided to try his hand at growing his own in the backyard of his Franklin Township home, and that's when his life took a real turn for the worse. A National Guard helicopter on a training flight spotted Wilson's garden and reported him to state authorities, who promptly seized his 17 plants, arrested him, and charged him with a number of drug possession and drug manufacturing offenses that could get him 20 years in prison. If convicted on the most serious charge -- maintaining a drug production facility -- Wilson would be ineligible for pre-trial diversion and would have to go to prison.

Wilson and his attorney explored plea bargain negotiations with prosecutors, to no avail. "We were prepared to settle for a reasonable deal, but the best they offered was five years in prison," he said.

Now, Wilson is going on trial. Jury selection is set to begin Monday.

It will be tough for Wilson to prevail. In October, Superior Court Judge Robert Reed ruled that his medical condition, and the fact that he had been taking marijuana to treat his condition, could not be revealed to the jury during the course of the trial.

"By striking my medical history from the trial, they've pretty much tied my hands behind my back," said Wilson. "Hopefully, we can get a jury that can see through what they're doing to me, but it's more than a little scary. The consequences of what they're doing would be horrendous for me. My health would definitely deteriorate in prison. Stress makes all the symptoms worse, and going to prison would definitely be stressful."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnraywilson3.jpg
Wilson with Jim Miller and Ken Wolski
"Wilson tried marijuana and found it does in fact help," said Ken Wolski, head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, which has lobbied hard to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Garden State to protect patients. "Interestingly enough, a National MS Society expert opinion paper recently acknowledged that conventional therapies don't adequately control MS symptoms and marijuana does. But he will not be able to tell the jury he has MS, and that's the only reason he was using marijuana in the first place," said Wolski. "He's got no job, no health insurance, no access to medicine that might bring him some relief. He tries to eke out a living on eBay."

"This is exactly why New Jersey needs a medical marijuana law," said Roseanne Scotti, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has been walking the statehouse corridors in Trenton for years trying to get medical marijuana passed. "John Ray Wilson's case is every medical marijuana patient's worst nightmare," she added.

"He was using for medical purposes, but is precluded by the courts from introducing evidence as to why, and the court is correct -- this is the law in New Jersey," Scotti continued. "But that's exactly why we need to change the law -- so people like Mr. Wilson can get safe and legal access to medical marijuana, and we don't go around arresting and prosecuting someone patients seeking some relief."

"John Ray Wilson is a poster child for the legalization of medical marijuana," said Wolski. "So many people are outraged that he is facing 20 years for trying to treat himself and will not even be able to tell the truth during the course of his trial."

In a cruel twist of fate, Wilson is being prosecuted just weeks before New Jersey is likely to adopt a medical marijuana law. The state Senate has already passed it, and the Assembly will vote on it early next month. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has indicated he will sign it. Two of the bill's sponsors, Sens. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), have highlighted Wilson's plight as indicative of why New Jersey needs a medical marijuana law.

"It seems cruel and unusual to treat New Jersey's sick and dying as if they were drug cartel kingpins. Moreover, it is a complete waste of taxpayer money having to house and treat an MS patient in a jail at the public's expense," said Scutari. "Specifically, in the case of John Ray Wilson, the state is taking a fiscally irresponsible hard-line approach against a man who's simply seeking what little relief could be found from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. Governor Corzine should step in immediately and end this perversion of criminal drug statutes in the Garden State."

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnraywilson6.jpg
But Corzine hasn't stepped in or stepped up. Instead, his office said it would wait until Wilson was convicted to consider a pardon.

"The attorney general and the governor didn't want to take any action, but they could make this case go away by exercising prosecutorial discretion," said Wolski. "They chose to let it move forward, and now its getting a lot of regional and national attention, and rightfully so, because it shocks the conscience of the community."

"The only way we're going see fewer of these cases come before the court is if the 'New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act' becomes the law of the land," said Lesniak. "This has been an issue that has taken years to resolve in New Jersey, and legislative approval and enactment into law are long past overdue. It's time that the Assembly posts this bill for a vote, so we can focus our attention on putting real criminals behind bars, and not piling on the suffering for terminal patients simply seeking a little relief from the symptoms of their diseases."

But while an Assembly vote is now set for next month, John Ray Wilson's trial will be over by then. Barring a miracle of jury nullification, Wilson will be drug felon. And in the meantime, he's going without his medicine. "I'm not going to buy marijuana on the street," he said. "That would get me thrown back in jail."

The calls to Congress are working -- keep it up!

Friends:

The calls to Congress are working, and I've been getting great feedback from ASA activists.  Will you help?

Step by step, Congress is learning about the Truth in Trials Act. 

A good example is U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, who got a number of calls, emails, and letters from ASA activists in his Southern California district.   One such email came from ASA activist Joshua Lewis, who is Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Cannabis Journal. 

Congressman Issa sent the following response to Joshua:

-----
From: Congressman Darrell Issa
Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2009 10:29 AM
To: Joshua Lewis
Subject: Re: your recent message

Dear Mr. Lewis:

Thank you for taking the time to write to me to request my co sponsorship of the Truth in Trials Act

I have forwarded your letter to my Legislative Assistant who will investigate the possibility of cosponsoring this bill.

Thank you again for taking the time to bring your interest in this bill to my attention.

Sincerely,

Darrell Issa
Member of Congress
-----

Elected officials are starting to pay attention to what we are asking for.  Medical marijuana patients need protection from federal prosecution.  The Truth in Trials Act can help.

Will you call your Member of Congress?

Here's a reminder of the basic steps:

1. Find out who your Rep is.  Go to http://www.house.gov and type in your zip code in the upper left corner.  If it asks for your full "Zip+4", just look at your last piece of junk mail.

2. Dial 202-224-3121.  Ask the operator to transfer you to your Member of Congress.

3. Tell your Rep ... "I'm calling from ______ and I want you to cosponsor HR 3939, the Truth in Trials Act."

4. Reply to this email and tell me who you called.

Thanks!

- Sanjeev, ASA

ASA's 2009 Holiday Party

Americans for Safe Access 2009 Holiday Party Live Music with Brass Liberation Orchestra, DJs, Entertainment by Shamanic Cheerleaders, Silent Auction, Appetizers & Champagne. Hosted by Steph Sherer, Executive Director & Founder of ASA Screening of "Medical Cannabis in California: A report from the front-line" Age 21+, Please Bring ID $25 Pre-sale tickets online: www.americansforsafeaccess.org/holidayparty -- otherwise call ASA's office at 510-251-1856.
Date: 
Wed, 12/16/2009 - 7:30pm
Location: 
341 14th Street
Oakland, CA
United States

ASA's 2009 Holiday Party -- Oakland, California

Americans for Safe Access 2009 Holiday Party

Wednesday, December 16th at 7:30 PM

Live Music with Brass Liberation Orchestra, DJs, Entertainment by Shamanic Cheerleaders, Silent Auction, Appetizers & Champagne.

Hosted by Steph Sherer, Executive Director & Founder of ASA
Screening of "Medical Cannabis in California: A report from the front-line"

Age 21+, Please Bring ID

Maxwell's Restaurant & Lounge
341 14th Street at Webster in Oakland

$25 Pre-sale tickets online:  www.americansforsafeaccess.org/holidayparty

Or call ASA's office at 510-251-1856
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

Congressional Budget Deal Allows Federal Funding for Needle Exchange and Medical Marijuana in the Nation's Capital

US House and Senate negotiators in conference committee approved the finishing touches on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget Tuesday night, and they included a number of early Christmas presents for different drug reform constituencies. But it isn’t quite a done deal yet--this negotiated version of the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act must now win final approved in up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed floor votes in the House and the Senate. What the conference committee approved: * Ending the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs--without previous language that would have banned them from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and similar facilities. * Ending the ban on the use of federal funds for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia. * Allowing the District of Columbia to implement the medical marijuana initiative passed by voters in 1998 and blocked by congressional diktat ever since. * Cutting funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign from $70 million this year to $45 million next year. In a news release after agreement was reached, this is how the committee described the language on needle exchange:
Modifies a prohibition on the use of funds in the Act for needle exchange programs; the revised provision prohibits the use of funds in this Act for needle exchange programs in any location that local public health or law enforcement agencies determine to be inappropriate
Its description of the DC appropriations language:
Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia:...Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities.
And its language on the youth media campaign:
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $45 million, $25 million below 2009 and the budget request, for a national ad campaign providing anti-drug messages directed at youth. Reductions were made in this program because of evaluations questioning its effectiveness. Part of the savings was redirected to other ONDCP drug-abuse-reduction programs.
Citing both reforms in the states--from medical marijuana to sentencing reform--as well as the conference committee’s actions, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann stopped just short of declaring victory Wednesday. “It’s too soon to say that America’s long national nightmare – the war on drugs – is really over,” said Nadelmann. “But yesterday’s action on Capitol Hill provides unprecedented evidence that Congress is at last coming to its senses when it comes to national drug control policy.” But, as noted above, there are still two votes to go, and DPA is applying the pressure until it is a done deal. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans will get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C if Congress does not repeal the federal syringe funding ban,” said Bill Piper, DPA national affairs director. “The science is overwhelming that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. We will make sure the American people know which members of Congress stand in the way of repealing the ban and saving lives.” Washington, DC, residents got a two-fer from the committee when it approved ending the ban on the District funding needle exchanges and undoing the Barr Amendment, the work of erstwhile drug warrior turned reformer former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), which forbade the District from implementing the 1998 medical marijuana initiative, which won with 69% of the vote. “Congress is close to making good on President Obama’s promise to stop the federal government from undermining local efforts to provide relief to cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who need medical marijuana,” said Naomi Long, the DC Metro director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “DC voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and Congress should have never stood in the way of implementing the will of the people.” "The end of the Barr amendment is now in sight,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This represents a huge victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have every right to set their own policies in their own District without congressional meddling. DC residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, more than 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest." Medical marijuana in the shadow of the Capitol? Federal dollars being spent on proven harm reduction techniques? Congress not micromanaging DC affairs? What is the world, or at least Washington, coming to?
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: Congress Close to Ending Ban on Medical Marijuana in Washington, D.C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                              
DECEMBER 9, 2009

Congress Close to Ending Ban on Medical Marijuana in Washington, D.C.

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications …………… 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a historic move, Congress is now poised to end the decade long ban on Washington, D.C. implementing the medical marijuana law District voters passed in 1998 with a 69 percent majority. Known as the Barr amendment, the provision – a rider attached to appropriations for the District -- has forbidden D.C. from extending legal protection to qualified medical marijuana patients and has been derided by advocates for years as an unconscionable intrusion by the federal government into the District's affairs.

            The omnibus spending bill that Democratic leaders will shortly be bringing to a vote in the House later this week removes this onerous provision. Once both chambers approve this final language and the president signs it, the Barr amendment will no longer block medical marijuana in D.C.

         "The end of the Barr amendment is now in sight,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington. “This represents a huge victory not just for medical marijuana patients, but for all city residents who have every right to set their own policies in their own District without congressional meddling. D.C. residents overwhelmingly made the sensible, compassionate decision to pass a medical marijuana law, and now, more than 10 years later, suffering Washingtonians may finally be allowed to focus on treating their pain without fearing arrest."

            Advocates noted that the welcome repeal will come too late to help Jonathan Magbie, a D.C. quadriplegic man who died in prison in 2004 from lack of medical care after being convicted for using marijuana to treat his pain.

         "Jonathan Magbie would be alive today if the District been able to implement its medical marijuana law when it passed in 1998,” Houston said. "Perhaps now nobody in the District will ever have to suffer as he and his family did simply for using the medicine that works best for them."       

         Recently, the American Medical Association called on the federal government to reconsider marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, which bars medical use.

         With more than 29,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

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